If you’ve committed to going for a stretch without alcohol, you’ll be familiar with the mild panic you get at the thought of a looming date that’s laden with expectations about drinking – like birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve.
Valentine’s Day is one such date, and it can be anxiety-provoking for reasons other than expectations around drinking. For those who find themselves single in February it might just as well be called Outcast Day. For those with a partner, it can be a day of some tensions about ‘getting it right’: not enough effort and you risk disappointing your partner; too over the top and you might scare them away. As a society, we’ve developed a suite of expectations and conventions around Valentine’s Day. There’s the flowers, the chocolates, the cards, the helium balloons … and most of all, there’s the Valentine’s Day dinner for two at an intimate restaurant, with a bottle of champagne chilling in an ice bucket.
So, what happens to Valentine’s Day when you’ve committed to a stretch without alcohol? Can you still pull it off and leave your relationship intact (or even stronger?) when the standard accepted imagery contains at least one glass of champagne or cocktail? And, in the absence of the social lubricant, can the full unvarnished You smoothly mesh communication gears with your partner, particularly an alcohol-free partner?
Well, your Uncle Roger is here to tell you that you can, so pay close attention …
First off, let’s see exactly what we want to get out of Valentine’s Day. Is it to enrich our local florists and restaurateurs, or is it to enrich our relationship with an actual or potential loved one? If the latter, then let’s get a bit creative and admit that there are many ways of achieving this that don’t require a visit to a crowded and over-priced restaurant.
Food is good, though, and breaking bread together is a time-honoured way of easing into conversation and opening up with each other. If the weather forecast is fine, then a picnic can be a great idea: you can pick the spot that enhances the moment and you can control the quality of the food (pro-tip: go easy on the elaborate pre-mades. Stick to hand-held classics like sandwiches or morsels that can be eaten with just a single fork). Best of all, there’s no waiter plonking a wine-list on the table, or hustling you out to make way for the next sitting.
Still on food, and if the state of your relationship is up to it, consider inviting your date over to your place to cook something up together. First off, it’s a lot of fun. Second, you get to eat your creation (pro-tip: do a rehearsal run through the recipe in the days before Valentine’s Day so it doesn’t go horribly pear-shaped on the day). But third – and here’s the real pay-back – it can give you a valuable insight into how you both work together, by forcing a degree of cooperation to complete a slightly complicated task. As part of the meal, jazz up some AF cocktails in a blender using our recent readers’ recommendations.
For something even more old-school, consider going for a walk. It doesn’t have to be through a dappled Bambi-esque forest – most cities and towns have interesting neighbourhoods and you can stop for a coffee or pop into a shop or two on the way (pro-tip: if things have escalated already with your date, consider slipping out earlier in the day to conceal a surprise gift along the route. Corny, yes; but also devastatingly effective!)
‘What about the zoo?’, I hear some of you cry!
One word: don’t! Zoos fail on a number of important fronts. Taking your love interest to a zoo is way too cliched, hence the heaving mass of couples you’ll find at the zoo every Valentine’s Day. They are also remarkably smelly places, and that can kill a vibe faster than the sudden appearance of your ex-. Worst of all, though, animals at the zoo can be rather … uninhibited, shall we say. I’d rather not go into details on that one, but just trust me. (Pro-tip: never loiter near the chimpanzee enclosure.)
Another oldie-but-goodie is simply catching a movie together. Be careful here: a lot of chains are now serving wine and beer during screenings in their luxury cinemas, but for the most part it’s still a choc-top and popcorn affair. This would have been further up the list a few years ago, but you may be unable to find a cinema which isn’t showing a superhero movie at short notice; in which case, take a pass.
The final suggestion takes a bit of preparation, but it would be memorable. It’s a little-known fact that Saint Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeepers (long story), so there’s an ideal opportunity to surprise your date by visiting your local urban apiarist. Spend a blissful afternoon in fetching beekeepers’ outfits while viewing the industrious bees (Pro-tip: take an epi-pen with you in case your date is bee-allergic).
With a bit of thought and a little planning you can unshackle yourself from the standard Valentine’s Day fare, do something memorably romantic, and not even miss the pop of the cork.